Could Albert Pujols be the Next Candidate for ESPN’s “The Decision”?

09
Jul
2010

(NOTE: Be sure to check out this week’s episode of the JoeSportsFan web show – roughly 10 minutes of digital magic dedicated to our favorite stories in St. Louis sports.)

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It’s probably safe to say that LeBron James’ decision to turn his free agency into a bizarre reality show might have backfired and can now officially be viewed as a PR trainwreck.

He whored himself out to ESPN on a level previously matched only by Barry Bonds and Brett Favre and went from a likeable superstar to heartless mercenary in 60 embarrassing minutes.   But despite the negative publicity for it’s subject, this stunt did exactly what ESPN set out to do – it created truckloads of hype culminating in a dramatic televised event that most all sports fans were following in some way.

So the logical question is “who is next?”

Surely ESPN isn’t going to let this formula go to waste by making it a one time thing.  It might not become the new standard for announcing major transactions in sports, but they’ll certainly be looking for another opportunity to unleash this monstrosity on fans.  It’s just a matter of who and when.

Unfortunately for St. Louis Cardinals fans, there is a chance that we might have an ideal subject right here in town in the form of Albert Pujols.

Is it possible that Pujols is a potential target for the next edition of “The Decision”?  Here are four reasons why he might be the #1 choice to become the  next LeBron and four reasons why we keep telling ourselves it won’t happen.

4 Reasons it could happen

1.) ESPN
As ESPN begins to take inventory of the massive hype, the likely-to-be-huge ratings and the way in which this show – as bad as it was – truly took over the sports world for several days, they will no doubt be scouring each league to find a way to make it happen again.  The nature of the subject matter dictates that this isn’t going to be a recurring weekly/monthly show, but if you think that the Worldwide Leader won’t look to recreate it if the situation is right, then you don’t know the folks in Bristol very well.

2.) Timing
Pujols technically is not set to become a free agent until the conclusion of the 2011 season, so he has a while before he is fielding offers.  But everyone will get a good idea on his future intentions during this coming offseason, as the Cardinals will no doubt throw every penny they can at him to keep him off the open market.  Baseball doesn’t offer a salary cap.  If Pujols elects to rebuff offers from his current team this winter, it’s a good sign that he is looking for dollars over loyalty.

That would mean that ESPN would have roughly a year to sell Albert on the concept and work out the logistics to ensure that Round Two of “The Decision” is just a big as Round One.

3.) Icon Status
Last night’s charade doesn’t make a blip on the national radar if its done with anything less than a truly iconic player.

Albert Pujols is an iconic figure in his sport.  He is the best and most consistent player in Major League Baseball, he has won three MVP awards and has finished in the top three of the MVP voting in seven of his nine seasons.  Should he enter the free agency market, he will do so as a 32-year old whose age comparables on baseball-reference.com are Joe DiMaggio, Hank Aaron and Jimmie Foxx.

Like LeBron, his next contract will be a franchise-altering one for both the team he signs with and the team he leaves.

4.) Charity
Say what you will about the true intentions of LeBron’s tie-in to the Boys and Girls Club, but this spectacle did ultimately raise over $2 million for the charity.  Not exactly pocket change.

Pujols has been known to be a bit surly in everyday situations, but one thing that he is passionate about is his charity work, be it in his home country (Dominican Republic) or through his Pujols Family Foundation benefitting children living with Downs Syndrome.

If ESPN, Nike and other big sponsors ponied up seven figures to his charity in return for him announcing his decision in a one hour special, it might be a proposal he sees as worthwhile.

4 reasons it won’t happen

1.) Baseball Logistics
In basketball, the concept of a “max contract” exists.  That means that teams can come with all the creative pitches they want to convince a player to sign, but the money is relatively consistent in all of them.

In baseball, the free agency period unfolds a little differently than it does in the NBA.  Teams aren’t limited to a finite cash pool to spread around which means players aren’t motivated to grab their piece of it as soon as the free agency bell rings.  The likely strategy for a player of Pujols’ stature is to sit back and watch teams battle to see who can put together the most lucrative monetary package, which may take time to unfold.

Establishing an artificial deadline that allows for the signing to be announced on national TV doesn’t necessarily benefit the player’s bottom line and if it isn’t good for the player’s bottom line, then good luck selling him on the concept.

2.) Timing
ESPN will have to be patient in finding the ideal scenario to make this work again, but the winter of 2011 is a year and a half away and the network hasn’t demonstrated a strong ability to remain patient when they feel they have a hot product on their hands.   Do they wait over a year or do they scramble to find a way to recreate it during the next MLB/NBA/NFL offseason?

We’re betting on the latter.

3.) Attention
Make no mistake, it takes an attention whore to orchestrate something like “The Decision”.  If the player isn’t one who is addicted to attention like its a drug, then he shouldn’t bother applying.  Even at the risk of losing a massive amount of fans, LeBron James still dragged this process out in a way that kept the spotlight on him for as long as possible.  Brett Favre had to be proud.

For all the things his detractors accuse Albert Pujols of being – a steroid user and someone who lies about his age are two popular ones – an attention whore is not one that comes up often.  Sure he appears in his fair share of commercials and does the required amount of media, but when it comes down to it, Pujols wants to be playing baseball in the summer and generally out of the limelight in the winter.

His appetite for ego-swelling attention doesn’t seem strong enough to support something similar to what LeBron just gave us.

4.) He’s not a dick
The apparent consensus amongst sports fans and media members after watching LeBron announce his decision to sign with Miami was that the whole production was a massive slap in the face to Cleveland.

To leave the franchise and city that he had played for throughout his entire career, a city that had invested monumental amounts of hope in him, who envisioned him as their Michael Jordan, was fairly harsh especially when the money was essentially equal.  But to do so in the fashion that he did, was arguably the most cold, public manner in which he could have severed ties with Cleveland. It was the equivalent of breaking up with your girlfriend via the Jumbotron at the stadium.  Why piss on an entire city quietly when you can invite the whole country to watch?

Simply signing a contract to play elsewhere doesn’t typically result in public riots, videos of people burning your jersey being thrown up on YouTube and cop cars being brought in to protect the giant billboard of you downtown immediately afterwards.  All of that happened in Cleveland last night.

So what happens?

The optimistic Cardinals fan in me says that it won’t even be an option after he signs a long term extension this offseason to effectively end his career in St. Louis.

If he does choose to hit the open market, the naive little Midwesterner in me says that Albert Pujols isn’t leaving in a fashion that turns him from St. Louis’ reigning hero to number one villain overnight.  He cares too much about his reputation and his legacy.

The sports fan in me says that, regardless of whether Pujols is a part of it, the next time ESPN puts on a display like they did last night, I won’t be watching it.

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